Teresa of Calcutta has landed in New Westminster – or, at least, a strand of her hair has.
The first-class relic, a gift to the Ukrainian Eparchy of New Westminster’s Holy Eucharist Cathedral, from a priest who knew Mother Teresa personally, is inspiring many who have come to view it. One parishioner is even reporting miracles.
Natalia Legan has a three-year-old daughter with autism, who struggled to speak, participate in social environments, or interact with other children at daycare. The pastor at Holy Eucharist, Father Mykhailo Ozorovych, suggested Legan bring her daughter to church, but she was worried about how stressful the environment would be for her daughter.
“I said: ‘She should come to church and pray,’” Father Ozorovych told The B.C. Catholic. “I offered she could come when there’s nobody in the church.”
Legan accepted the offer. When the mom and daughter duo arrived at the quiet cathedral several months ago, Father Ozorovych pulled out the relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta. He had received it in 2017 from Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, one of the first men to join Mother Teresa’s order of priests (and who later became the postulator for her canonization cause), and had not yet decided how to put it on public display.
“That was the first time that I pulled out the relic, and I offered this young girl to venerate it.”
There were only the three of them in the Ukrainian church. The girl kissed the relic, and Father Ozorovych prayed that she would be placed under the protection of St. Teresa.
Legan said she had not realized Mother Teresa was a saint before that day. Now, she is a big fan of the saintly missionary, thanks to events that happened after that prayerful interaction – events she can only describe as miracles.
“A few things happened,” she said. Her daughter began socializing with other children. She learned the Sign of the Cross, an action Legan says is “almost impossible” for children with autism to memorize.
Then, four months ago, the girl suddenly developed a tooth ailment that turned her pearly whites an odd grey colour and apparently mystified her doctors. Legan turned to St. Teresa, asking for her intercession and a cure for her daughter’s teeth. “Over three days, she got white teeth,” she said. They have reportedly stayed white since.
But what Legan says was the biggest miracle happened Nov. 3. Father Ozorovych had chosen that day to put the relic on public display for the first time, along with a new icon of St. Teresa of Calcutta. It was a big event for the parish: world-travelling Father Kolodiejchuk had flown in to give a talk and bless the congregation, and about 100 people showed up – a significant turnout for the small Ukrainian Catholic community in New Westminster.
Legan, by now a devoted fan of Mother Teresa, had a deep desire to attend the service, but one day prior her daughter came down with a severe stomach flu. She had diarrhea and was throwing up all day and all night. “I knew I couldn’t come to the service, but I prayed to Mother Teresa,” said Legan. To her surprise, her daughter “had no symptoms by that afternoon. It was completely gone.”
The pair attended the service: a little girl who was apparently healed and had learned to socialize and make the Sign of the Cross, and a mother who was no longer afraid to bring her daughter to church.
“Since then, she’s participating in circle time, she’s imitating the (Sign of the Cross), and she’s starting to talk. She has 100 words. Half a year ago, she had no words.”
Every day at home, Legan’s daughter makes the Sign of the Cross and kisses an icon of Mother Teresa. Occasionally, they go back to Holy Eucharist Cathedral to pray before the relic privately. Legan said while some family members believe recent events were miracles, friends consider them coincidences.
“I asked, and I saw that it worked! So I keep on asking,” she said.
She’s not the only one inspired by the relic. Alexandra Kalewska, a volunteer missionary, has looked to Mother Teresa as a role model ever since she underwent a painful surgery after high school. She was a Catholic, but in her teenage years had stopped going to church.
One night “I was in a lot of pain and it was midnight. I got on my knees and prayed: ‘Lord, take away my pain. I’ll do anything.’ He took it away, miraculously!”
Kalewska, deeply moved, decided to keep her word and attended Mass the next day. “The homily was about Mother Teresa, about her years of darkness and how she suffered spiritually, physically, but kept on serving God in her own way. She moved towards God instead of running away, like I had.”
It struck a chord. Since then, Kalewska has rekindled her faith, become a fan of St. Teresa, and developed a strong desire to visit India herself. Finally, this December, she will do just that, having booked a week-long trip to Calcutta this Christmas to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity.
When she heard about the chance to view a relic of hero, she went to New Westminster to meet other fans of St. Teresa and glean information about travelling to India.
“It was very surreal,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. When I venerated the relic, I felt a real warmth, a presence.”
Then she gazed at the icon, locking eyes with the hand-painted face of her role model. “I felt her affirming me: ‘Yes, keep on moving on the path you’re moving. I’m walking with you.’ It was a very comforting, hopeful feeling.”
Father Ozorovych was surprised and pleased with the reactions of those venerating the relic. “The most amazing thing for me was the variety and different walks of life that came to that event. St. Mother Theresa brought to herself Ukrainians, Filipinos, young, old, Roman Catholics of all sorts. It just shows how universal she is.”
He guessed about 75 per cent of those who came to see the relic Nov. 3 were entering a Ukrainian Catholic church for the first time in their lives. He saw anticipation, amazement, amusement, and a “feeling of a discovery of a gem” in the local Catholic community.
Four Missionaries of Charity who live in Vancouver and serve in the Downtown Eastside came out to the event, a welcome surprise for some who attended. “The order that (St. Teresa) started is not some far, distant reality somewhere in India. It’s here. It’s home.”
The relic will be on display at Holy Eucharist Cathedral for people to view and venerate Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. and then every first Thursday of the month. Father Ozorovych hopes to eventually create a permanent space for the relic to be kept and viewed anytime the church is open.